Gas firm to pay for bulldozed Logan County cemetery

Gas firm to pay for bulldozed Logan County cemetery by The Associated Press, October 17, 2012, The Charleston Gazette
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Gas drillers who plowed through a cemetery for a historically black coal camp community in 2004 were ordered to pay $200,000 in punitive damages Wednesday, on top of the $700,000 in compensatory damages a Logan County jury awarded a day earlier. Jurors ruled Tuesday that Equitable Production Co. and subcontractor General Pipeline were reckless when a bulldozer operator desecrated the Crystal Block Cemetery near Sarah Ann. Equitable is a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based EQT, which did not immediately comment but planned to issue a statement Wednesday evening. “This jury has found that Equitable’s reckless treatment of mountain cemeteries will not go unpunished,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Kevin Thompson.

“Everyone told us that we had no chance of winning this trial in Logan County,” he said. “Fourteen African-Americans standing up against a gas company in Logan County just shows the power of our jury system, and why we must protect it.”

Former state Supreme Court Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard, sitting as a senior status judge, oversaw the trial in Logan. General Pipeline shoved aside headstones and metal markers while building a road to a drilling site, but it had argued that it was an “innocent and unknowing entry.” The lawsuit, filed in 2006, accused General Pipeline and Equitable of negligence, nuisance, trespass, desecration of grave sites and deliberate infliction of emotional distress. The damage was discovered by James Olbert, whose father, Daniel, is buried there, but it continued while two more roads were built. Resident Bud Baisden pleaded with a crew member to stop, the lawsuit said, but the worker used racial slurs in describing who was buried there, and the bulldozing continued. Although the cemetery was unfenced, relatives said they visited every Memorial Day to clean up and lay flowers.

A 2007 survey conducted for the plaintiffs found 22 marked and unmarked graves, and five displaced markers within an 87-by-59-foot area. Investigators said they found fragments of metal markers in the bulldozed road, a displaced granite marker and a displaced marble marker indicating the grave of a Korean and World War II veteran who died in 1962. The last known burial was in 1965. Some graves are known to be much older. [Emphasis added]

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